2015 was a year full of classic games revisited, but also a few new releases played through and given their appropriate scores. There were surprises and disappointments, as it’s so often the case. With so many titles reviewed, there were of course some lost in transition to the next year. Still, this isn’t a list of games exclusively released in 2015, but actually played during that time.
Point-and-click adventure games featured predominantly in these pages. Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was just as engaging to play today as back in the 90ies. Even though the Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers – 20th Anniversary Edition had improved graphics, both titles shared the same obscure puzzles. It’s telling that plot and character development are still unsurpassed, so that game designer Jane Jensen hadn’t be able to reach this high quality again with her latest Moebius: Empire Rising. This one was troubled with graphics problems and, even worse, repetitive puzzles, trying a bit too hard to introduce a new character and game series which ultimately failed. One should rather replay The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery that was even better than the first title. Maybe it had to do with actually visiting all the Bavarian locations in real life, but the way how fiction and history were mixed, is unparalleled today, although the acting and puzzles weren’t that great. Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned might have been the swansong of Sierra and a problematic entry to 3D adventures in terms of technology, but it’s still one of the best point-and-clickers due to the great story, the Serpent Rouge puzzles and an almost open-world approach.
Another all-time classic was given the remake treatment, namely film noire-inspired Grim Fandango: Remastered. While its epic story, funny writing and memorable characters are timeless, the differences between the old and new version in terms of audio and graphics were barely noticeable. Using the mouse instead of the direct keyboard/gamepad controls made things much smoother, though.
Back to the pixel art roots, there were many Wadjet Eye Games titles, some developed by Dave Gilbert, some published by him. The former included The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, Blackwell Convergence, The Blackwell Deception, and The Blackwell Epiphany. The first is undoubtedly the best, as it introduced a strong female lead with Rose Blackwell and with wise-cracking Joey Malone her fedora hat-wearing ghostly partner. It was touching, suspenseful game and a great example of what good writing can do for an adventure game, without relying too much on puzzles, even if it was rather sentimental at times. The second game was more refined, but also less suprising. Still with intertwining stories and some nice twists and turns, this proved that the series delivered. The same could be said about the third game that had the same highs in storytelling and some lows in puzzles. Unfortunately, the fourth title was a drop both in art design and storytelling. It wasn’t a bad game, just an average one in the series. The final one wasn’t a big step up, as there were just too many characters and embedded stories with some weird ending, but at least it was visually the highlight and gave fans more of the same.
Dave Gilbert already had big success with his first title, and the The Shivah: Kosher Edition showed that with better graphics and voice acting in addition to some tweaks, the game was still enjoyable to play. Playing as a rabbi and learning about Jewish society was one of the standout features of the game. Even if it was a short experience and had some questionable puzzles, the idea of cause and effect decision-making worked quite well for the most part. A Golden Wake was another matter. Not developed by Gilbert, it still managed to be entertaining, but story and character development took some time. How real-life characters and setting told a convincing story of fame and downfall was great though, resulting almost in a Death of a Salesman experience, even if puzzles and some parts of the story suffered in the process. Technobabylon was another Wadjet Eye Games addition that was rather talkative with much technical jargon and lost itself in its many plot elements. While it was still a good title, its pixel art and good voice acting didn’t save it from being a slightly disappointing and forgettable release.
Staying with the minimalist graphics, The Samaritan Paradox was a game that had interesting puzzles and a storyline that tried different things with changing from fantasy, folklore into present-day life. But it could have been a bit more refined. Randal’s Monday was very humorous in tone, trying to evoke the old LucasArts feeling, but ended up a bit too hard on obscure puzzles and light on story. However, it was full of pop culture references and was so crazy at times that one was torn between a love and hate-relationship with its obnoxious main character. Anna’s Quest was another Daedalic Entertainment acquisition and struggled with its main protagonist as well, only this time it was the overall cuteness and innocent behavior that could get annoying. Still, this was an atmospheric throwback to dark fairy tales with some nice puzzles and memorable art design. Developer Dane Krams might have struggled with his episodic game, but the full release was so much the better with this full story philosophy.
Speaking of episodic content, Broken Age might have found many Kickstarter backers in angry states when it was divided into two parts, but the end result was still worth it. While some could argue it wasn’t the adventure game they wanted due to the puzzles being too easy for most of the time, it was still a great game with an interesting story and art design, even if it couldn’t achieve the same cult status as Tim Schafer’s other games. Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today was another crowdfunded title that had more problems with its open ending. It was a good game with the expressionism look the most unique aspect, but it certainly didn’t set the genre on fire with standard puzzles in addition to problematic storytelling.
However, there were some games which materialized through Kickstarter and became the biggest surprises of the year, mainly Dropsy and Fran Bow. The former was a weird open-world adventure game with a clown but without any text. It was all the better for it, with some genuinely funny puzzles and heartwarming stories, although the main plot remained stranger than fiction. Killmonday Games’ story about a girl who’s struggling with mental illness and the death of her parents, while traveling through fantastic and horrible fantasy places was reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but was different enough to stand out. One had to cope with lots of blood and corpses, though.
Humor and good puzzle design didn’t have to exclusive, as Fire proved. It was light on story, but for its short playtime it offered very fun conundrums to solve (not counting quite a few annoying logic puzzles). Supreme League of Patriots was an unfortunately sad attempt of being politically incorrect and showing social injustices. The main reasons for this were the never ending self-aware jokes and a plot that just took too long to get really interesting, which was a shame, as some of the puzzles were quite good.
Different ways of playing through a story in adventure games is rare, but both The Last Express and Her Story gave the genre a much needed shot in the tired arm. The former was one of the first real-time adventure games of its time way back in the 90ies (even preceding Blade Runner). It was a highly ambitious game which didn’t achieve everything it set out to do, with navigation and puzzle problems. However, with its unique visual style and setting, it was certainly a memorable experience. Sam Barlow tread new ground for the survival horror genre with his Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and his FMV adventure seemed to be everything the medium needed. There was a lot of hype around the game and many critics praising it for trying something different. It was obviously an interesting experience, but as a game it needed a bit more substance, even for an FMV title. Still, as far as disturbing and personal games go, this was quite an achievement.
In regard to personal experiences, it was high time to do some RPG reviews. The Witcher was such an amazing experience. Despite all the technical problems and some questionable quest designs, this really was the epiphany of what a good RPG is all about. After having lost count on all the titles I’d tried since Baldur’s Gate (not even finishing the sequel), this was such a surprise. The reason for reviewing it was of course to prepare for the third part. But not having a new console or the PC to run it, this might take a while, as well as reviewing the second game. Playing The Witcher Adventure Game was also quite good. Even if it suffered from some bad AI, playing it with a friend was worth all the wait and getting into all the intricate rule system.
Of course it wasn’t all about solving puzzles and listening to lots of dialogue. Sometimes punching some people in the face would be enough to raise a smile, but of course only in the digital world, e.g. with the Double Dragon Trilogy, a conversion that had its problems, but retained the arcade original’s high difficulty and fun co-op play. This was also the first time I cooperated with fellow reviewer bino32 from The Idiosyncracy of Life in Words who helped me out on the The Witcher Adventure Game as well.
More collaborative work was done with my co-editor Annagram from Future Sack, namely Pokémon Shuffle, an interesting free-to-play puzzle game that only suffered from its monetary system. She helped me with SQUIDS Odyssey, a fun but very difficult strategy RPG, and Grim Fandango: Remastered as well. So this was a great experience, playing through and discussing all these games together.
Some games are meant to be played alone, though, or at least in a secluded environment, to concentrate on the atmosphere or simply to stay alive long enough. This became extremely important in classic arcade-like shoot-’em-up Raptor: Call of the Shadows. It took lots of cursing to finish it, but with some great music and an interesting upgrade system, this stood up well even today. Contemporary titles SOMA and STASIS were entirely different beasts. Both being adventure games, they approached their sci-fi horror in various ways, the one succeeding in creating a great underwater atmosphere with a thought-provoking story of artificial intelligence and what it means to be human, the other unfortunately relying on too many nods to classic sci-fi horror like Alien and the contemporary Dead Space series. It might have looked promising with some creepy sound design and impressive graphics, but it ended up being the disappointment of the year.
What was your favorite game you played in 2015? It doesn’t necessarily have to be of that year. It could be a classic title or anything else. Maybe even from this overview?
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